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Pair of US documentaries bring hot political issues to Croisette

Text by Jon FROSCH , , special correspondent in Cannes

Latest update : 2010-05-20

Two of the most remarkable tickets at Cannes this year are US documentaries exploring international political anxieties: Charles Ferguson's Inside Job, and Lucy Walker's Countdown to Zero.

After several coolly received competition entries, two of the hottest tickets at Cannes this year were US documentaries shown in the special screening's category last Sunday and Monday evenings. Charles Ferguson's Inside Job, which examines the global financial crisis, and Lucy Walker's Countdown to Zero, about the threat of nuclear weapons, tapped into political anxieties that permeate even the world's glitziest cultural event.

FRANCE 24's interview with Charles Ferguson

In Inside Job, Charles Ferguson (who made the much-lauded Iraq documentary No End in Sight, winner of the special jury prize for documentaries at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival) takes a dizzyingly complicated subject - the origins of the financial meltdown - and delivers a forceful argument about the dangers of unchecked greed and brazen lack of accountability. Narrated by Matt Damon, the film's most notable strength is that it makes the labyrinth of economic collapse both compelling and comprehensible to people who aren't religious stock market watchers or avid readers of The Wall Street Journal. 

Inside Job is also a work of fiery investigation. Ferguson grills high-profile figures (among them former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, plus former Bush economic advisors), about deregulation, investment banking, bonuses, and other practices that led the global economy down its wayward path. His most illuminating discovery is the complicity and occasionally active involvement of academic economists (professors, theorists, authors) in America's financial woes.
At times you feel like Ferguson has assembled the most outrageous and disingenuous quotes possible to forward his thesis, which is that all this could have been avoided if those controlling the economy had any moral conscience or sense of responsibility. But in general, Inside Job's indignation feels righteous and convincingly supported, avoiding for the most part the kind of grand-standing that has undermined the credibility of filmmakers like Michael Moore.
Countdown to Zero's passionate plea
Countdown to zero trailer

If Inside Job will make you angry, Lucy Walker's Countdown to Zero might have you fleeing the theatre to look for the nearest fallout shelter. This somewhat sensationalist yet consistently gripping documentary traces the history of nuclear proliferation and spells out, in chilling terms, the danger facing everyone when the weapons end up in the hands of the wrong people (terrorists).

Walker scores interviews with several former heads of state (the UK's Tony Blair, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, Russia's Boris Yeltsin, and the US's Jimmy Carter, to name a few) who recount their experiences and give their opinions on the matter. Most frightening, though, are the nuclear scientists who explain how easy it is to obtain the materials needed to construct these weapons and to actually build them.
Countdown to Zero - special report

Countdown to Zero sometimes seems to be rearticulating the same ideas (how conceivable vast nuclear destruction is, for example) rather than digging further into, and behind, them. Walker might have delved more deeply into the political history of nuclear armament, rather than having experts repeatedly tell us to fear for our lives.

Still, there's no denying the passion and skill behind the director's plea for a non-nuclear world, as well as its broad appeal: present at the screening were US actress Meg Ryan, outed former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (who is interviewed in the movie), and Queen Noor of Jordan.


Date created : 2010-05-18